There were maps on the walls of his room. Maps of our town, the towns around us, maps of the state, maps of the country, maps of Spain, and Canada, and Germany, and Greece. I asked him about it one day and all he said was that he liked knowing that there was more out there. Fox was weird like that. I didn’t mind the maps for the most part but it was kind of strange to be making out one minute and then staring up at blue and yellow veins of the world the next minute.
Whenever we were at his house we spent our time in his room. I think he was embarrassed of his family. He had so many siblings that it was hard to keep track of all of them and I think that at some point his mom just stopped trying to. He had three older sisters, they were graduated, or had moved out, I never met them. Then there was Fox, and his four younger brothers. My conversations with Fox’s mother were always brief. She was a frazzled woman and her attention span was short. That made sneaking Fox in and out of the house easy.
Fox’s father split after he was born. Then ten years later his mother remarried to Big Barry Junior. Big Barry Junior never left the couch, until the kids started to get loud, and then he would get up, knock someone or something around a bit, and sit back down. Fox always managed to distract me from whatever was going on downstairs, but it didn’t escape me that his mother wore turtle necks in the middle of July. I only ever asked Fox about it once, we had snuck into one of the little kids windows and then crawled into Fox’s room after his mother had gone to sleep and Big Barry Junior left for the bar.
I elbowed him in the side. He had a serious inability to ever take anything serious. I took part of the blame for that. He said he couldn’t be serious because I had enough to be sad about and he couldn’t sleep when I was sad. I always rolled my eyes.
“I saw Baby Barry.” The third youngest brother. He had a black eye today.
“I see him all the time.”
“I’m being serious, is he okay?”
“The kid fell off of his bike, he’ll live.” I knew Fox was lying. He was sly and he could fool just about anybody but he couldn’t lie to me.
“You would tell me if he hurt you right?”
“Oh, so you can beat him up? I’ve seen you fight remember?” He pinched my bicep and I elbowed him again. We were laying side by side, the grin fell from his face. I told my father I was spending the weekend at Caroline’s house. We were quiet, he didn’t want to talk about it anymore and I could feel my eyes starting to get heavy.
I rolled onto my side and he rolled over to face me.
“Pinky promise?” I asked sticking out my pinkie.
“Pinky promise.” He kissed my forehead and I drifted off soon after that. That was the first, last, and only time we ever discussed that.
I was there when he was arrested. We were at a beach party. A birthday party I think, for whom I can’t remember. We were sitting side by side on the cool sand. It was dark and there were people teeming around us. I remember the smell of faint sea salt and bonfire. Sid was with us, he and Fox were talking about fast cars and I was trying not to notice that the girl Sid had brought with him couldn’t take her eyes off of Fox.
I don’t remember the cop cars pulling up, but I remember the sound of everyone fleeing. The cops weren’t busting anyone for possession or for underage drinking. They were here on a mission. My father was leading the charge, he had been police chief for ten years now. It had never bothered me before, not even when I didn’t get invited to parties, or when I was given dirty looks.
“Fitzwilliam Harold Royal,” one of the cops called. I stopped breathing. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Barry Jacobson.” They pushed him down on the ground and pulled his hands behind his back. Everything stopped. Then suddenly, Sid and I were screaming, we were livid, Sid was yelling at one of the officers and I was pushing against another one. They had pulled Fox onto his feet and were marching him towards a squad car.
Suddenly arms were around me, I knew it was my father because I could smell his aftershave but I wouldn’t look at him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Fox. If I took my eyes off of him I would lose him forever. My father was reaching for his cuffs but someone stopped him. I was let go. Fox was in a cop car, it didn’t matter that my father was standing in front of me yelling something about impeding an investigation, I couldn’t focus on him anyway.
All I could see was Fox, the rest of the world was slowly falling away. I was frantic, I don’t think I remember breathing, or running, or collapsing. He was gone, the car had disappeared from the beach, he was no longer in sight.
“Lyla! Did you hear me?” Someone shouted behind me. It was my father. “Get in the car, or I’ll have you arrested.”
I held out my arms and looked him dead in the eyes.
“Lyla, don’t be such a child. Get in the car.”
“I said no.” I backed up farther from him. His partner whispered something in his ear and he started to relent.
“I have to get back to the station, go home now, I’ll have someone follow you there.” Then he was gone.
Sid was getting back to his feet, he had calmed down but the fight was still behind his eyes. I had lost, I was numb. Fox was gone and there was nothing I could do.
“Come on, I’ll drive you home.”
We walked to his car in silence. I realized now I didn’t have any shoes on but it was too dark to find them. I shivered against the cold as I climbed into Sid’s truck. Wherever his date was, she was gone. Everyone was gone. Fox was gone.
“He didn’t do it.” Sid said finally, he was quiet and the wind made it hard to hear him. I didn’t know if I could speak. If I would speak, I didn’t know what words I would use. “He couldn’t have done it. I mean even if he did, it would have been in self-defense, we all know what that bastard does.”
I nodded slowly but I didn’t say anything. Soon enough we were back at my house.
“Take care of yourself okay? Don’t do anything stupid.” Sid said as I got out.
“You too Sid, be good.” He smiled weakly and drove off.
My father wasn’t home yet. The house was dead, I felt like I was dead. I was sticky from being in sunblock all day and my hair still smelled like a bonfire but I didn’t bother washing the day away. I wanted to hold onto whatever I could. I crawled into my room slowly and went to the back of my closet where I had thrown one of Fox’s old sweatshirts that I had stolen from his room.
I pulled it on and crawled into bed.
Fox wasn’t violent, he couldn’t be even if he wanted to. For all we knew this was only a precaution. But that wasn’t true. I had been the daughter of a cop my whole life, I knew they didn’t make arrests unless they knew they had caught the guy.
And I knew what that meant, that meant that he was gone. Fox was gone. Fox was gone.
There was something thrilling about swinging in the park half-drunk well after midnight bathed in moonlight. There was nothing funny but Sid and I were laughing hysterically. Maybe it was the cheap liquor that sloshed around in my diet coke or maybe it was the fact that we used to play on this playground together ten years ago. I wouldn’t have pictured myself this way, and it made me sad, to think about that little girl with the perfectly trimmed hair, shiny shoes and pressed uniform. I laughed wildly now, and Sid looked at me like I was crazy. Who knows, maybe I am crazy.
“Do you remember me?” I asked him. “Like when we were kids?”
He took a swig of his rum and coke and tilted his head back. He was quiet for so long I wondered if he had even heard me. I rested my head against the cool chain link swings holding me up. They squeaked under my weight, echoing against the empty night. A few lights in the houses surrounding the park were still on but most were dark.
“I remember you were sad.” Sid murmered.
I looked at him confused.
“Jesus, Lyla, you were the saddest damn eight year old I knew. Don’t you remember what it was like when you got here?”
I did. I remembered that Sid was the scholarship kid with the dirty sneakers and the paper bag lunch. At the time I thought he was the sad one. But I see now that he was the happiest kid I knew.
“You always had a new story” I recalled aloud. “Something about your brothers, or your dog, I thought it was annoying.”
He shoved me hard, almost knocking me off of the swing. I laughed again trying to right myself. Looking over at Sid I knew somewhere he was still that happy kid.
“I was trying to make you smile.”
We were quiet for a while after that. I wanted to know what he was thinking but I didn’t dare ask him. A car drove by slowly, music rolling out of its open windows. I shivered despite the sticky hear and ran my hands through my wild hair. The grass beneath my feet was starting to become dewy and I knew it was late. Or early. I should make it home before my father wakes up but I didn’t want to move.
“Do you think he’ll come back?” Sid asked. I couldn’t tell if he was talking to me or to God.
“He doesn’t have anything left to come back to.”
“He has you. Fox had you. And me, he loved us.” Sid said, his eyes glassed over and he looked like he was going to cry. This was the Sid I knew, this was drunk, sad, lonely Sid. He tipped his flask back but I knew it was empty.
“Fox just needs some time. But he’ll come back. He always comes back.” I reassured him.
I think about that night with Sid in the park a lot now. Now that I’m older, and healed, or whatever. I wonder if maybe Sid, my happy go lucky best friend spent the rest of his life waiting for Fox to come home.